Oakley Thump 2 MP3 Sunglasses

High-impact, UV-filtering specs have 1GB flash drives and hold 280 songs. If money’s no object because you can afford to spring for single-purpose sunglasses that have an MP3 player and stereo speakers built into the arms, then by all means, grab yourself a pair of Oakley’s updated Thump 2 sunglasses and ’board to a different beat.

For these bucks you can be darn sure Oakley didn’t skimp on the optics, which are of the high-impact, 100%-UV-filtering variety.

Oakley says the 1GB model holds 280 songs, and shuffling from one track to the next is merely a matter of tapping the soft buttons this way and that.

Not so easy when you’re fingers are staying warm in gloves, but then again, at these prices, you’ve probably got a personal valet riding shotgun to wipe your running nose and change tracks for you.

— Joe Hutsko


Asus Laptop Includes 'Splendid Video Intelligence'

On Monday, AsusTek introduced its new Core2 Duo A8Jr, a new notebook series that will feature the first ATI Mobility Radeon X2300 GPU.
Designed specifically for greater graphics performance, and Certified for Windows Vista 3D, the A8Jr will make use of ATI's HyperMemory memory management technology for enhanced 'performance-per-watt' operations.

"There is an ever-increasing demand for higher graphic processing power and crisper graphics for entertainment and applications alike," said David Cummings, director of marketing for AMD's Graphics Products Group, in a statement.

"Our answer to that demand is the X2300 GPU. This GPU utilizes patented technology to increase processing power and provide the user with smooth, realistic hi-resolution graphics."

The new laptop will also offer something Asus is calling Splendid Video Intelligence Technology that allows the A8Jr to integrate different multimedia data sources in order to reduce noise and conversion rate for a sharper display and better contrast when running video applications.

Asus says the notebooks will all come with high-definition support capability, allowing for HD video playback on the go, as well as built-in WLAN 802.11 a/b/g, a 14.1-inch widescreen display, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR—a pumped up data rate that transmits three times faster than the standard Bluetooth—and 5 USB ports, a S-video TV-out port, and express card slots for data transfer and storage options.

A representative for Asus said that pricing for the A8Jr will be around $1249, depending on configuration. The company expects the laptop to start shipping in late February.

Bryan Gardiner - ExtremeTech


Google to run video ads from BMG, Warner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc. (Nasdaq:GOOG - news) said on Monday it would expand testing of its much-anticipated video advertising system by working with two major music labels to embed video ads on Web sites that make money running them.

Google said it would distribute advertising alongside videos from Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group (NYSE:WMG - news) over its AdSense online ad system to Web site publishers in a four-week test now underway.

"Over the past few months, we have run tests to figure out how we work with our partners and advertisers to combine high quality video content with ads and then distribute them (over) the Google AdSense network," Google said in statement.

The test with the two music labels follows an earlier public trial of Google's video advertising system with Viacom's (NYSE:VIA - news) MTV Networks, which provided music videos to run on a select number of Web sites running Google ads.

As part of the test, advertisements would be billed on a cost per thousand impressions (CPM) model, the traditional billing method for mass market advertising as opposed to the pay-per-click billing model Google popularized with text ads.

Google has been pushing ahead in recent months to expand beyond its hugely successful text-advertising system into new advertising formats including video, radio and mobile phones.

As a example, Warner Music has defined multiple video channels along themes like "rock music" or featuring the "Divas of Pop Music." A Web site owner can select a video channel and embed it on a section of the site dedicated to running Google AdSense ads. Visitors then can click to watch ad-supported videos within the video channel on sites running the ads.

The Google advertising system splits the resulting revenue three ways to the video content owner, the Web site publisher and Google. The exact revenue splits were not disclosed.

Mountain View, California-based Google said in a statement on its AdSense customer blog that only a limited number of Web site publishers had been asked to participate.

"Over the next few weeks we'll be testing AdSense video distribution and sponsorship with a small group of publishers," AdSense product manager Christian Oestlien said in his blog post.

Sony BMG is a joint venture of Japan's Sony Corp. (6758.T) and Germany's Bertelsmann (BERT.UL).

Shares of Google fell 1.8 percent to close at $480.84 on Nasdaq.

Eric Auchard

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Sun, Intel to partner on server chips

SAN FRANCISCO - The new alliance between Sun Microsystems Inc. and Intel Corp. joins two storied Silicon Valley companies with recent financial woes in a battle for the lucrative market for corporate servers and software. Sun, a one-time dot-com darling that has lost more than $5 billion since the tech collapse, said Monday it would begin building and shipping later this year servers and workstations that run on Intel processors.

Intel, trying to reverse plunging profits and market-share losses to archrival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., will officially endorse Sun's Solaris operating system in return.

Analysts said Intel's backing will be crucial in Sun's effort to gain more widespread adoption of its servers and software.

And Sun's embrace of Intel chips marks a timely design win for Intel, whose processors were shunted aside by Sun several years ago in favor of chips from AMD.

Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, has lost about 5 percent of the overall chip market to AMD over the past year, with AMD posting dramatic gains in the high-margin markets for servers and laptop computers that Intel once enjoyed nearly alone.

But Intel has revamped its product line with a new chip design to boost performance while giving off less heat, and analysts said deals like the one with Sun reflect a growing demand for Intel's new offerings.

"We see '07 as the year of Intel — everything is working in their favor now," said Larry Cao, a semiconductor equity analyst with Morningstar. "They're back on top, their product line is strong, and they're gaining customers. This is one example — they finally penetrated this one account that was purely AMD. That's a major score for them."

The CEOs from both companies, Jonathan Schwartz with Sun and Paul Otellini with Intel, jointly announced the deal in San Francisco.

Both executives stressed the collaborative nature of the partnership and said the deal is about expanding market opportunities in areas where both companies have been weak.

Otellini said the two companies agreed to try to find common ground while negotiating the terms of the new partnership.

"This is not just a commercial endeavor," Otellini said in an interview with The Associated Press. "This is a deep, cooperative effort. If you look at both companies, they both have a strong legacy of technology innovation. We're now able to do that in a collaborative fashion."

The deal represents a dramatic about-face for Sun, which several years ago began relying exclusively on AMD to provide the processors for servers based on the popular x86 design. Intel used to provide chips to Sun for that type of server, but Sun phased them out over concern about their high energy consumption.

Under the new deal, Intel will again make chips for Sun for servers based on the x86 design, though Sun will continue to use AMD products as well.

Analysts said the competition is likely to bring down Sun's prices and help the company broaden its customer base.

"Sun's a company that has a strong will and oftentimes blazes its own trail," said Crawford Del Prete, a senior vice president with market research firm IDC. "This is a way for Sun to accomplish a number of things with one stroke. It broadens the product line, it attracts customers loyal to the Intel product line, and it also increases adoption of Solaris. Intel's backing is important to win the confidence of customers."

AMD said in a statement that Sun remains a "strong, strategic partner" and that the deal ultimately serves the market demand for choice by driving innovation, differentiation between competing products and increased value to customers.

Though AMD has been gaining share at Intel's expense, Intel has slashed prices and the pressure appears to have taken a toll on AMD.

AMD is scheduled to report fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday and has warned investors that plunging processor prices would "substantially" reduce operating income for the quarter.

Investors had a muted reaction to the news of the Sun-Intel partnership.

Intel's shares were down 3 cents to close at $20.79 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, while Sun shares slipped 2 cents to $5.75 on the Nasdaq.

Analysts said part of the ho-hum reaction was because of Sun's relatively small size in the global server market.

Sun is ranked fourth in terms of worldwide server sales revenue, commanding about 10 percent of the market behind larger rivals Hewlett-Packard Co., International Business Machines Corp. and Dell Inc., according to data from Gartner Inc.

However, analysts said the deal was nonetheless an important milestone in the semiconductor and server industries that could help both companies prosper.

Schwartz, the Sun CEO, said the partnership with Intel was about reaching developers who build applications on Intel microprocessors and in turn driving sales for Sun.

He also stressed the long-term technology development aspect of the deal, which he said will lead to innovations for both companies far out into the future.

"This is a tectonic shift in the marketplace," Schwartz told the AP. "This really is a landmark relationship that's about growing the market and not simply the customer-supplier relationship. This really does change the face of the industry."

JORDAN ROBERTSON, AP Technology Writer

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Analysts: iPhone prices may go down

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Apple Inc. will have plenty of room to eventually reduce the retail price of its upcoming iPhone, according to preliminary gross margin estimates by a market research company.
The iPhone, the combination cell phone-iPod media player that Apple unveiled last week, will yield gross margins of more than 50
percent at the current set of retail prices, iSuppli Corp. said in an analysis of presumed component and manufacturing costs.

The 4-gigabyte version of the iPhone, with a retail price of $499, will cost Apple $245.83 to make, iSuppli estimated. The 8-gigabyte version, priced at $599, will cost Apple $280.83.

"With a 50 percent gross margin, Apple is setting itself up for aggressive price declines going forward," said Jagdish Rebello, a director and principal analyst with iSuppli.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Since Apple will face stiff competition in the cell phone market, the company may need to cut into its margins to reduce pricing in the future, he said.

The Apple iPhone, which was announced by CEO
Steve Jobs last week, will be available starting in June exclusively through AT&T's Cingular Wireless. Apple has said it hopes to sell 10 million units in 2008, or about 1 percent of the market.

That goal "seems attainable," Rebello said.

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Take an Internet Call and Some Notes, or Just Doodle

You can’t put the world in your pocket, but you can put the Web there, with Nokia’s N800 Internet tablet, which is about the size of a paperback (3 by 6 by ½ inch). Like the earlier N770, it lets you browse the Internet, send and receive e-mail and instant messages, download audio and video and get R.S.S. feeds. The N800 adds a Web cam for videoconferencing and a microphone for Internet phone calls.

As a media player, the N800 handles MP3 and Windows Media files and other common audio and video formats, displaying images on a 4.1-inch color screen and playing audio through built-in stereo speakers or a headphone. Content can be loaded from SD or MMC memory cards, streamed from the Web or downloaded through a U.S.B. connection from another computer. The tablet uses Wi-Fi networking, but it can also connect to a compatible Nokia phone via Bluetooth and use it as a wireless modem.

The tablet, available from retailers and for $400, has an on-screen keyboard. It will recognize text written with a stylus, which can also be used for doodling.

ivan berger


Botnet Gang Faces Jail

Dutch prosecutors are pursuing jail terms for two men charged in a large-scale computer hacking scheme in which more than 1 million computers may have been infected with adware and other malicious programs. The case is the biggest cybercrime case prosecuted so far in the Netherlands, said Desiree Leppens, spokesperson for the organized crime branch of the National Public Prosecution Service in Rotterdam.

Evidence Offered

During a one-day trial that ended Tuesday, prosecutors showed how at least 50,000 computers were infected by the two defendants, who are 20 and 28 years old. Police have not released their names. The pair used a malicious program called "Toxbot," a worm that can be used to gain remote control of a computer and log keystrokes, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also charge that the defendants threatened an advertising software maker, 180Solutions, now renamed Zango, with a denial-of-service attack after a dispute over payment. Zango settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in November for $3 million after concern that distributors of its software were installing it on peoples' computers without their consent, often by exploiting vulnerabilities in operating systems or Web browsers.

Prosecutors also allege the pair were involved in phishing schemes, where fraudulent Web sites are constructed to harvest personal information such as bank-account or credit-card details. The two used a Trojan horse called "Wayphisher", which on an infected machine can redirect a Web site request from a legitimate bank site to a phishing site.
Fines, Jail Sought

Prosecutors want a three-year sentence for the 20-year-old and two years for the 28-year-old and and each to pay $38,000 to the Dutch government, Leppens said. A judge will return a verdict in the case on January 30.

Four others involved in the ring who are facing lesser charges will go to trial later this year, Leppens said.

The various schemes caused at least $75,000 in losses to victims, through online purchases and other actions, Leppens said.

Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service

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Online astronomers seek out new worlds

LOS ANGELES - Amateur astronomer William Bianco doesn't huddle over a backyard telescope to hunt for undiscovered planets. He logs onto his computer. Bianco, who was mesmerized by the intricacies of the universe as a young boy, is part of a growing online community that sifts through mountains of data collected by professional scientists in search of other worlds.

While Bianco has yet to make a landmark discovery, he savors the rush of teetering on the cutting edge of research.

Never before have amateur astronomers had so much unfettered access to celestial data once available only to scientists with huge telescopes. In the latest frontier of astronomy, professionals are increasingly enlisting the aid of novices with personal computers to help pore through images and data — all in pursuit of the next great breakthrough.

"We're in the golden age of astronomy," said Bianco, who keeps his day job as a political science professor at Indiana University.

Thanks to technology, novices are effectively turning from lonely skywatchers to research assistants. Even before the rise of virtual astronomy, amateurs did everything from tracking asteroids to detecting supernova explosions to eyeing new comets.

In 1995, neophyte stargazer Thomas Bopp gained fame for co-discovering what would be known as Comet Hale-Bopp. Two years ago, in what was billed as the first such find by an amateur in 65 years, Jay McNeil of Kentucky took a picture of a new nebula — an illuminated cloud of gas and dust lit by what is believed to be a newborn star.

Since the late 1990s, virtual astronomy has boomed. One of the earliest online citizen scientist projects was SETI(at)home, which distributed software that created a virtual supercomputer by harnessing idle, Web-connected PCs to search for alien radio transmissions.

While the SETI project hums in the background as a screen saver, the newer efforts require more human thought.

Bianco belongs to an Internet project called Systemic, which boasts 750 amateur planet hunters. Astronomers have already discovered more than 200 planets in far-off solar systems using traditional methods, yet there are likely more out there.

Participants download software and rifle through data that measure the tiny gravitational wobble in a star's motions in search planets that orbit stars other than our sun. Users also try to decode simulated data of planetary systems invented by the project managers — a task that will help the professionals better understand real extrasolar planets.

To participate, users select a star — real or simulated — and adjust other variables such a planet's mass and orbital period by moving a slider back and forth on the screen. The goal is to design a planetary system that best fits the data and then publish the answer online.

So far, online users have pinpointed hundreds of potential candidates, but only about five might actually be real, said Systemic project head Greg Laughlin, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"It's not an aimless game," he said.

Although the Systemic Web site provides the search tools, it doesn't promote any of the discoveries, Laughlin said. Amateurs who want to publicize their find need to look for another outlet, such as a scientific journal to get credit.

Laughlin is no stranger to Web-based astronomy. He helped start another project in which amateurs point their telescopes at potential extrasolar planetary systems and look at dimming starlight to learn about a planet's size and composition. Unlike Systemic, users have to buy expensive equipment — including telescopes and cameras — to participate.

Before Internet-based astronomy, it took a long time for novices to report their discoveries. High-speed, always-on Internet access has blurred the line between the professionals and amateurs, said Terry Mann, president of the Astronomical League, made up of over 240 U.S. amateur astronomy clubs.

Last year, Mann signed up to analyze a repository of online images of the first-ever microscopic grains of star dust brought back to Earth by a
NASA spacecraft.

The work is painstaking. Mann and her fellow 25,000 volunteers eye hundreds of thousands of digital images in search of minuscule carrot-shaped trails left by the capture of star dust, believed to be the leftovers from stellar explosions.

Mann has submitted 40 possible examples of star dust in the images. If correct, amateurs can get their names published in scientific papers written by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, which manages the Stardust(at)home project.

"Amateurs can do real science. We can actually help," Mann said.

Andrew Westphal, associate director of the Space Sciences Laboratory at Berkeley, praised amateurs — it would probably take his whole life to find all the dust sprinklings, he said.

"It's stunning how good they are. I think they're better at this than we are," Westphal said.

The Internet has also benefited professional astronomers, who often have to fight for scarce telescope time at major research observatories.

Since 2001, the National Science Foundation has funded a $10 million project to create a "national virtual observatory" that compiles data from ground and space-based telescopes — including dazzling images from the
Hubble Space Telescope and X-ray data from the Chandra Observatory. The project, which is still under development, is primarily used by professionals who want to go to one source to mine archival images. High school and college students are increasingly tapping into the Web site as well, said project manager Robert Hanisch of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

As far as amateur astronomer Bianco is concerned, the more people teasing out the mysteries of the cosmos, the better.

"It's going to take some time and collective effort to find what's out there," he said.


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Internet economy passes new milestone

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Americans spent over 100 billion dollars shopping on the Internet in 2006, and growth in e-commerce is likely to extend its strong pace in the coming years, analysts say.

A report by research firm comScore Networks said online retail spending excluding travel reached 102.1 billion dollars last year, a 24 percent increase over 2005.

A large chunk of that came in the holiday season of November and December -- 24.6 billion dollars, up 26 percent versus last year.

"E-commerce is becoming more mainstream," said Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst at the research firm eMarketer.

"A larger segment of the population is buying online, and people are buying more things than they have in the past."

Investment firm Cowen and Co. calculated the 2006 sales figure at 108 billion dollars and sees this growing to 225 billion by 2011.

"We estimate that US e-commerce sales will grow 20 percent in 2007, driven by increasing adoption of broadband, lower prices in online channels, and the increased convenience of online shopping," the Cowen report said.

This would mean e-commerce would account for 4.7 percent of total US retail sales in five years, up from 2.7 percent at the end of 2006.

"Retailers have to take it seriously, if they don't they are really behind the boat," Grau said.

"There doesn't seem to be any end in sight as to how large it will grow. It will continue to grow above the rate for offline retail."

Grau said more consumers are comfortable with buying online, and are purchasing a wider range of goods such as jewelry, apparel, appliances and furniture.

"At the same time retailers are becoming more savvy marketers," he said.

"For people who want to purchase a diamond ring online, you may see a guide to understanding the terminology. For furnishings, you're more likely to see streaming videos, and see how it might fit in your living room."

Research by eMarketer suggests 22 percent growth in online sales in 2007 to 132 billion dollars, excluding travel.

One reason for the upsurge in holiday spending was confidence by consumers in rapid delivery, allowing retailers to extend the season into mid and even late December.

"The flow of online holiday retail spending in 2006, as compared to the previous year, demonstrated that online consumers pushed their buying later than ever," said comScore.

The final three weeks of the holiday season saw a major surge in spending as procrastinators came out in full force, driving a 31-percent increase versus the corresponding weeks in 2005, comScore said.

"The week leading up to Christmas saw the biggest surge with a 45-percent increase versus the corresponding week a year ago, as consumers showed their faith in online retailers' ability to 'deliver the goods' in time for Christmas."

Cowen analysts Jim Friedland and David Geisler argue that online sales will eventually exceed 10 percent of total US retail spending. One reason will be a shift to downloads of items like films and music as consumers become more comfortable with this practice.

"We expect a dramatic long-term shift in the media category from physical in-store purchases to Internet downloads," they wrote.

South Korea, which has the highest broadband penetration in the world, e-commerce sales account for eight percent of total retail sales and are still growing three times faster than offline retail sales."

Grau said major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target are using the Internet and their own stores, giving customers the option of returning items to the store instead of shipping them back.

But Internet-only stores such as can often compete better on price, he said.

"The Internet channel is cheaper to operate, you don't have to have stores, you don't have to have inventory," he said.

In other cases, some Internet retailers try to compete as a "niche" player, "where they have items that you can't find at a Wal-Mart."

Rob Lever

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Technology: Valley of the Gadgets

On the eve of the massive Consumer Electronics Show—a bacchanalia of gizmology, with 140,000 conventioneers packing Las Vegas to visit 2,700 companies spread over several football fields' worth of booths last week—Gary Shapiro sighed when he talked about who wasn't there. "We invite him every year," says the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the show. "It would be great to have him here." But in 2007, as in the past, instead of joining an all-star keynote lineup that this year included Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Motorola's Ed Zander, Disney's Bob Iger and CBS's Les Moonves, Apple CEO Steve Jobs presided over his own conference in San Francisco. So for the first two days of CES everybody obsessed about what Steve would do. During the last two days, after Apple had introduced its iPhone, they obsessed about what Steve had done.

Of course there were plenty of things to see at CES. Electronics behemoths rolled out major products at packed press conferences, competing for mind space against innumerable cool gadgets serendipitously discovered at some obscure booth in the annex space at the Sands Hotel. In case you missed anything, an army of bloggers blasted a blizzard of postings—a "wisdom of crowds" approach that ensured that no gizmo went unnoticed. (Many bloggers hung out at an informal "Bloghaus" at the Bellagio, having more fun talking to each other than stomping the show floor.) Some people buzzed about the $249 Sansa Connect Wireless MP3 player, a Wi-Fi music device that lets you hook up to music services and recommendations from any hotspot. The cognoscenti whispered about the Sound-olier DUO Wireless Speaker Lamp, which integrates the otherwise intrusive rear speakers of a surround-sound system into a torchiere floor lamp. And for those interested in the physics of pain, there were gaily colored $300 consumer versions of Tasers, the electrical stun devices.

The big theme this year was making video utterly ubiquitous. There were 100-inch-plus LCD screens from LG, Sharp and Samsung, and there were screens as small as poker chips, running broadcast television from cell phones (check out the LG VX940 using Verizon MediaFLO). In the TI booth you could see a prototype of a system that could let your cell phone project a six-foot video image. Cingular unveiled Video Share, which lets you accompany a mobile call with a live video stream. Those who recently bought big hi-def screens might want to know about Evo, a company devoted to gorgeous mounting of those Cyclopean beasts.

You could hardly pull the lever of a slot machine without elbowing someone who had a scheme to move the Internet to the television set. Sony introduced the Bravia Internet Video System, which pipes AOL, Yahoo and Grouper (an Internet video aggregator) to your Bravia television. SanDisk announced USB TV, a sneaker-net approach where you move video content from your computer to a two-part iPod nano-size unit, then plug half the thing into a docking station hooked to your television; the other piece is a remote control. A company called Quartics was showing PC2TV that lets you stream Internet content directly on your television.

A variation on that theme was the proliferation of "media centers" and massive storage devices that let you store all your movies, photos and TV shows, and watch them around the house. Sony's weird-looking Vaio TP1—it resembles a toilet booster seat—has 300 gigs and all sorts of tuners and connectors. Microsoft, which plastered the convention center with banners touting its finally-about-to-arrive Vista operating system, has developed a Windows Home Server that promises to "simplify digital life for families."

The CES ghost man was in on this game, too: back in San Francisco, Jobs announced details of Apple TV (which he had earlier demo'ed as iTV), a scheme to wirelessly get the video, photos and music from your computer into your TV set (as well as movie trailers from the Internet): it's $299 and available in February. And not yet seen in Vegas.

Steven Levy

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Gaming industry breaks out of funk with record sales in 2006

Every player in the next generation video game console battle is claiming victory after an industry-wide record-setting sales performance in 2006. A strong holiday season capped off a year that resulted in total revenues of $12.5 billion spent on games, new console systems, handhelds and accessories, according to the industry's market tracker The NPD Group. The 2006 total represents a 19% increase over 2005's $10.5 billion mark, another record.

"Everyone was fairly negative about the industry at the end of last year," says NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "And it started out rocky this year, but within a few months everything started to fall into place. It kind of breaks the conventional wisdom of what a console transition year is like in the industry."

The largest portion, $6.5 billion, went to game software, a slight increase over last year. Revenue from game console systems - including the new Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 (both released in November) and Microsoft
Xbox 360 - rose 87.5% to $2.9 billion from $1.6 billion last year.

Grabbing most of the attention in 2006 were new game systems - Sony's much-anticipated PlayStation 3 ($499-$599) and the lesser-regarded Nintendo Wii ($249). Consumers bought as many of each system as manufacturers could get to retail and demand drove the resale market on eBay and other online auction sites.

Sony, which earlier this week said that it had shipped 1 million PS3s to North America by year-end, sold 687,300 PS3s, according to the NPD Group's numbers. So far, the PS3 is selling at a faster pace than its predecessors, Sony's Jack Tretton said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Wii became a hit, too, selling 1.1 million units. "Once you get people to try it, you see them light up," says Nintendo's Perrin Kaplan .

Microsoft's Xbox 360 overcame its own supply problems by spring and sold 3.9 million units, pushing its installed base to 4.5 million - in December outselling PS3 and Wii combined. "The story as we see it is we won the vote with consumers this holiday season, due in part to the quality of our games," says Microsoft's David Hufford.

November's Xbox 360 release Gears of War is expected to surpass the 3 million sold worldwide next week and is tracking to join the industry's top selling games ever, Hufford said. With the third installment in the hit Halo series arriving later this year, "we are really right where we want to be heading in to 2007."

But quietly, two older systems, the five-plus-year-old
PlayStation 2 ($129) and two-year-old Nintendo DS handheld ($129) were plugging along successfully, selling 4.7 million and 5.3 million, respectively.

Overall, Sony hardware and games amounted to more than $1.6 billion in December alone - a record month for the industry. " "Not only did consumers drive records for PlayStation 3, they also validated the excellent value represented by PlayStation 2 and the entertainment versatility of PSP (PlayStation Portable, which reached an installed base of 6.7 million )," Tretton said.

Nintendo, Frazier says, "managed to make (the DS) appeal older without abandoning its core customer, the kids" landing New Super Mario Bros. and Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day among the year's top 10 selling games.

At Nintendo, supporters of the Wii and DS feel justified by the results, Kaplan says. "As a risk-taking, innovative company we thought long and hard about bringing these kids of products out. We watched very closely what looked to be happening with players. The glimmer in their eye was not quite as bright (as in the past) and the excitement level was starting to tap out," she says. "Once the Wii and DS were finalized, we all felt like we really shouldn't be doing what we were doing if this didn't have success. It just felt really right."

Leading up to the NPD's release of its annual report, many analysts expressed concern that the performance of the lackluster PS3 could have ramifications for the industry. American Tech Research analyst P.J. McNealy offered that the system did not have many hit titles, might be priced too high and had not been marketed properly as a cost-effective high-definition movie player.

With Sony announcing earlier in the week that it had met its goal of shipping 1 million PS3s to North America and NPD's report suggesting that it had actually sold less than 700,000, McNealy said that "there is headline risk" of doom and gloom media coverage.

Arcadia Investment's John Taylor assessment had a similar tone, too. "The Wii buzz factor completely trumped the PS3," he wrote in a Wednesday report - may contribute to the slowing of the industry's expected PS3 adoption rate.

But Wedbush Morgan Securities' managing director of research Michael Pachter says that "talk of Sony's demise is premature. … Microsoft is growing their lead, but the question now is whether now that we are getting more supply, if we see the PS3 and Wii outsell it on a monthly basis."

Regardless, the situation at the beginning of 2007 appears much more promising than 12 months ago, Frazier says. "There's just a lot of good things going on," she says. "It was just much less volatile going into the transition that expected."

Mike Snider

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Cyber-squatters pounce on Beckham move to US

Within minutes of the ex-England captain announcing he will join Los Angeles Galaxy after his contract at Spanish giants Real Madrid runs out in June, cyber-squatters were buying up a host of names linked to the big-money move.

Cyber-squatters buy up domain names cheaply and then often sell them to the persons or companies whose names are involved at a vastly inflated price.

Midfielder Beckham, 31, is one of the world's most marketable sports stars and his new five-year deal is worth a reported 248 million dollars.

NetNames, which manages domain name portfolios for top companies and celebrities, said that within 90 minutes, a cyber-squatter in southern England has bought, and

In the United States,, and were all registered quickly.

"This is some of the fastest cyber squatting I have ever seen," said Jonathan Robinson, chiefoperating officer of NetNames.

"David Beckham is a major international brand and there are clearly many people who have seen an opportunity to cash in.

"Securing these domain names after Beckham's announcement on Thursday was the online equivalent of the first day of the Harrods sale as opportunists fought for the domain name rights to every single permutation of the Beckham brand crossed with LA Galaxy.

He said stars are vulnerable to cyber squatters if they don't act fast to secure domains before they need them. "A domain name is easy to secure in the first place but retrieving it from a cyber squatter is easier said than done.

"The potential damage a malicious registration could do to a celebrity's brand is untold. Just imagine if one of Beckham's sponsors finds his most popular unofficial website takes surfers to a rival brand."

Former Manchester United winger Beckham's switch to Major League Soccer is being touted as a major attempt to expand football's popularity in the United States.


AMD warning shows processor momentum shifting

SAN FRANCISCO - AMD's pain may be Intel's gain. Thursday's profit warning from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE:AMD - news) shows the No. 2 computer processor maker is smarting from a price war with Intel Corp. (Nasdaq:INTC - news) , whose all-new chips have given it the upper hand.

"The read AMD would like the world to have is that there's a price war and it hurt AMD and so it's also hurting Intel. But in truth, it's a little different," said Cody Acree, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. "I don't think it's apples to apples."

After more than a year of dramatic share gains driven by a processor design more efficient than Intel's, AMD is finding itself on the defensive.

It appears especially vulnerable in the market for server chips, where Intel is applying pressure with a line of revamped products headed by a chip with four processing cores.

AMD may have slashed server processor prices 40 percent, given that its quarterly processor revenue grew only 3 percent, despite "significant" growth in unit shipments, said JoAnne Feeney, managing director with FTN Midwest Securities.

"I think it came from Intel having very successfully come up with new processors and ramping production up much more quickly than anyone expected," Feeney said.

But while analysts say evidence is mounting that Intel is winning this round of the processor wars, they also point out there are plenty of other risks to its financial performance.

The PC industry is grappling with swollen inventories and lackluster sales as consumers wait for the broad release of Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq:MSFT - news) Windows Vista operating system, due out this month.

"While Intel appears to be regaining market share from AMD and in our view has relatively lower risk, it is not immune to these industry factors," said Daniel Berenbaum, an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group.

When Intel reports fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday, Wall Street will be looking for it to show a profit before special items of $1.43 billion, or 25 cents per share.

That is a drop of 40 percent compared with a year earlier. Since then, Intel has sold off several unprofitable business units, pledged to cut 10,000 jobs and refocused on its core PC processor operations.

Revenue is expected to be $9.43 billion, down 7.5 percent from a year earlier.

For AMD, there appears to be no quick fix.

AMD is toiling away on its next-generation chips and plans to launch its first server chip with four processing cores in the middle of the year, which will take on Intel in the high end part of the market.

AMD also has a new notebook chip in the works that should help it challenge Intel's long-standing dominance in that fast- growing segment.

Even then, it may take several months before the new chips translate into fresh share gains. That is because AMD must increase output of those chips, while customers need time to evaluate them against Intel's offerings.

"If the Vista deployments begin to build some momentum and PC sales overall improve dramatically, then everyone will benefit and it could lift AMD," Acree said.

"Unfortunately, a lot of things don't change for AMD until they get new products, just like how things didn't change for Intel until they had new products."

In light of AMD's warning, Wall Street now expects it to show a profit, before special items, of $51 million, or 8 cents per share. Including the company's acquisition of graphics chip maker ATI, which closed in the quarter, AMD is expected to show a loss of nearly $500 million, or 91 cents per share.

AMD reports quarterly earnings on January 23.

Scott Hillis



Apple renames itself, unveils iPhone

SAN FRANCISCO - First there was iPod, now there's iPhone. The next phase of Apple's plan to reinvent itself as a consumer electronics company was unveiled Tuesday by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and it received a warm reception from Wall Street. The touch-screen-controlled device plays music, surfs the Internet and delivers voice mail and e-mail differently than any other cell phone.

IPhone, introduced by Jobs during his keynote speech at the annual Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, was accompanied by Apple TV, a set-top box that streams video from computers to television. the company is even getting a name change — from Apple Computer Inc. to just Apple Inc. — to better reflect its transition to a full-scale consumer electronics manufacturer and retailer. But it remains to be seen whether a $500 phone and some other gadgets will be enough for the company to remain a Wall Street darling and sustain the market dominance enjoyed by iPod, Apple's iconic digital music player. Others wonder whether the phone — despite its slim elegance and wide-screen monitor — is priced competitively. "Prospects for the new device are positive, but it is not a given that Apple can win against a slew of wireless providers, phone manufacturers, and Microsoft, all of whom are similarly motivated to raise their flag on the same territory," said James L. McQuivey, a communications technology professor at Boston University.

Even the phone's name is in contention.
Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems Inc. that makes networking equipment for the home and small businesses, unveiled its new iPhone line of Internet-enabled phones last month. Cisco has owned the trademark on the name "iPhone" since 2000. Although Cisco is agitating for Apple to make a public statement clarifying use of the name, Apple executives say their cellular phone doesn't compete with Cisco's Internet phone. Despite that uncertainty — and despite the fact that Apple's phone won't be available until June

— Wall Street has initially blessed it. Apple shares jumped $7.10 to close at $92.57 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, creating about $6 billion in new shareholder wealth. The stock has traded in a 52-week range of $50.16 to $93.16.
Nearly 120 million Apple shares changed hands Tuesday, more than 4 times the average daily volume. Meanwhile, shares of other smart-phone makers slid: Treo-maker Palm dropped 5.7 percent, BlackBerry's Research In Motion Ltd. lost 7.9 percent and Motorola Inc. shed 1.8 percent.

Tim Bajarin, principal analyst with Creative Strategies, said the iPhone appears poised to revolutionize the way cell phones are designed and sold.
"This goes beyond smart phones and should be given its own category called `brilliant' phones," he said. "Cell phones are on track to become the largest platform for digital music playback, and Apple needed to make this move to help defend their iPod franchise as well as extend it beyond a dedicated music environment." Apple's iPod currently commands about 75 percent of the market for downloaded music and portable music players. The company's iTunes digital media store has sold more than 2 billion songs, 50 million television episodes and more than 1.3 million feature-length films, catapulting iTunes beyond for digital media sales.

Initial hopes for the iPhone are relatively modest. The company hopes to sell about 10 million units in 2008, or about 1 percent of the market. About 957 million cellular phones were sold in 2006.
Apple TV, which a price tag of $300, has a 40-gigabyte hard drive and stores up to 50 hours of videos, 9,000 songs or 25,000 photos. It will be available in February. Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for worldwide marketing, said Apple isn't getting out of the computer business, despite the name change. It's simply broadening its business. "We sell Macintoshes and will continue to do so and are very happy with that business," he said. The phones, which will operate exclusively on AT&T Inc.'s Cingular Wireless network, will start shipping in June. The 4-gigabyte model will cost $499, while an 8-gigabyte iPhone will be $599. Cingular would not provide details of its financial arrangement with Apple.

But Glenn Lurie, president of national distribution for Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless, said Cingular's board agreed to the collaboration without even seeing a prototype, based on Apple's reputation for innovation.
"We looked at this and said, `Apple is so good at what they do,'" he said. It's not Cingular's first foray into music-playing phones. In 2005, the company teamed with Motorola on an iTunes-enabled phone called ROKR. But the product was widely considered a flop because it only held 100 songs and required users to buy songs through a computer and download the songs to the phone — deficiencies the new Apple phone would remedy. IPhone is less than a half-inch thin — slimmer than almost every other phone on the market. It comes with a built-in, 2-megapixel digital camera, as well as a slot for headphones and a SIM card. The phone automatically synchs the user's media — movies, music, photos — through iTunes on computers running either Mac OS X or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. The device also synchs e-mail, Web bookmarks and nearly any type of digital content stored on a PC.

The phone supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technology and can detect location from Global Positioning System satellites. It also can send and display e-mail and text messages. Apple is partnering with Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) on Web-based e-mail and Google Inc. on maps. To make a call, users can tap out the number on an on-screen keypad or scroll through their contacts and dial with a single touch. To zoom in on a photo or Web site, tap twice. To zoom out, tap once with two fingers. "It works like magic," Jobs said. "It's far more accurate than any touch display ever shipped. It ignores unintended touches. It's super smart."


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Source: Intel's Core 2 Quad to Debut at CES

Looking to capitalize on its first-to-market quad-core processors, Intel plans to announce its Core 2 Quad for commercial PCs at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, an industry source told eWEEK.

The latest quad-core offering from the Santa Clara, Calif., company will join five other quad-core chips that Intel has already released for servers. Intel has also released the Core 2 Extreme quad-core QX6700 for high-end systems.

The CES show officially kicks off Jan. 8. The industry source, who spoke to eWEEK on the condition of anonymity, said the newest quad-core processor will likely be announced "sometime next week."

An Intel spokesman said the company has no comment at this time.

The Core 2 Quad will be marketed toward mainstream desktop users, and Intel will use CES to show consumers the performance enhancement quad-core chips offer versus dual-core chips, especially with downloading items such as music and movies.

Specific details about the configurations of the Core 2 Quad, such as Front Side Bus architecture, performance per watt, cache memory and price, were sketchy. However, it appears that the processors will run at the 2.4GHz speed that Intel officials described at the company's Developer Forum in San Francisco on Sept. 26.

In addition to the Core 2 Quad, Intel officials plan to release two other quad-core Xeon processors that are designed for servers in the first quarter of this year. The first chip is a low-voltage processor for ultra-dense deployments with a TDP—a term that refers to how much heat a chip has to dissipate—of 50 watts. The second chip is designed for either a single-socket workstation or server.

By comparison, the Core 2 Extreme runs at 2.66GHz and consumes about 130 watts of power.

On Nov. 14, Intel beat rival Advanced Micro Devices to the quad-core market by offering four Xeon processors that use 65-nanometter technology and offer 1.5 times the processing power of the dual-core chip.

Click here to read more about the official Intel launch of the quad-core Xeon processor.

Intel has manufactured its quad-core processors by combining a pair of dual-core chips in a single package. AMD, by comparison, has touted its design, which will combine four cores on a single piece of silicon, as the superior quad-core offering.

The AMD quad-core, code-named Barcelona, is not scheduled to hit the market until the middle of 2007.

Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates in Concord, Mass., said that any announcement by Intel at CES about a quad-core offering will help continue the momentum the company gained back in November with the original announcement.

The one drawback to a quad-core-powered desktops, Kay said, is that the software applications that could really show off the processing power have not been developed. The one benefit, he said, is if users want to run multiple tasks at the same time. For example, Kay said users could have the anti-virus software running in the background constantly with e-mail in the foreground and another application, such as a video, all running as well.

"I think the company would want to make a big splash at CES," Kay said. "It looks like they want to take something that had been scheduled for later, bring it up and then show it off for the consumer base and claim it's the hottest thing out there."


Apple's new iPod could bolster music dominance

SAN FRANCISCO - After absolving its current management team of any wrongdoing in an ongoing stock-options scandal, Apple (AAPL) shifts its attention to next week's Macworld conference here, and the much-speculated unveiling of an iPod with cellphone-like features.
The Dash Express service to be rolled out in California in the spring and nationwide later in the year will enable users to search for local services or businesses from their car seats and then be guided to chosen destinations.

Yahoo and Dash billed the alliance as a GPS industry first.

The service will allow motorists or passengers to search by business names or related terms to glean local options from the Internet.

For example, a Dash user that types "croissants" as a search query will get a list of bakeries, cafes and stores in the area that sell the pastry.

A user could type "plumbing supplies" in the search box and be routed to nearby hardware stores.

"For the first time, drivers will be able to leave their homes knowing that they can easily find whatever they need -- right from their car," Dash chief executive Paul Lego said in a release.

"It's that simple."

Dash is located in Mountain View, California, a short distance from Sunnyvale-based Yahoo.

"Working with Dash takes us one step closer to that goal and provides consumers with another meaningful and relevant way to interact with our products," said Paul Levine, general manager of Yahoo Local.


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Futuristic tools and toys at world's largest consumer electronics show

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - A mind-bending array of futuristic gadgets tailored to the Internet and home life will be unveiled this weekend at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
More than 140,000 people from around the world are expected to attend what is billed as the largest trade show of its kind and a launch pad for culture-changing innovations such as the video cassette recorder and the compact disc player.
The "hottest products" from 2,700 exhibitors are to be on display at the 40th annual International Consumer Electronics (CES) show, which runs from Saturday through January 11.
Heralded offerings include televisions that play shows or films from computers as well as handheld and desktop computers that play television programs.
The maker of the SlingBox device that enables people to tune into their favorite television programs no matter where they are has sponsored an "Anytime Anywhere TechArena" at the show for similar technologies.
"This is such a hot and growing trend that this TechArena is sure to be a can't-miss destination at this year's show," said Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro.
"Sling Media is a prime example of a company pushing the boundaries of on-demand media availability by giving consumers greater flexibility in how and where they view their personal entertainment content."
In what was seen as a confirmation that film distribution is shifting inexorably to the Internet, Walt Disney Company chief executive Robert Iger and CBS president Leslie Moonves will be among the featured speakers at the event.
Digital Hollywood seminars at the show will focus on "how movies, music, advertising, television and more are merging into a powerful new experience" and websites such as YouTube and MySpace are changing how users get entertainment.
US Internet search engine Yahoo is among the exhibitors promising breaking news at the show.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and the heads of Motorola and Dell were also confirmed as CES speakers, emphasizing the influence technology titans have on consumer electronics.
Displays of new devices are to cover as much space as 35 US football fields.
Promised innovations included technology to make remote-controlled and monitored "smart homes," intensify video game play, or operate cars from afar.
Security advances on display will including a device that acts as a credit card that can only be used with a matching fingerprint, and a palm scanner that recognizes a user by the veins in their hands.
Sony Ericsson will present a watch that not only tells time but wirelessly controls mobile devices so a user can discreetly field calls, check messages, or play music.
Sony's handheld Mylo will be shown off as a combined communication and entertainment device that allows people to stay connected at any WiFi hotspot.
Hewlett Packard is presenting a MediaSmart high-density television with wireless Internet connectivity to access songs, videos, films and other online content.
California company New Media Life is presenting "the world's first and smallest" wireless Internet television and podcasting device with satellite reception.
Technology geared to cars will include systems for viewing movies on the road, enhanced navigation, and using cameras to see behind vehicles.
Of course, there will be robots. Most of the robotic offerings were designed to tend to the chore of vacuuming, but Ugobe of California is to present a "designer species" robotic dinosaur pet named Pleo.
Honda of Japan is to return with humanoid robot Asimo made all the more lifelike with a new skill - running in circles.

Glenn Chapman


Toyota creating alcohol detection system

TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp. is developing a fail-safe system for cars that detects drunken drivers and automatically shuts the vehicle down if sensors pick up signs of excessive alcohol consumption, a news report said Wednesday.

Cars fitted with the detection system will not start if sweat sensors in the driving wheel detect high levels of alcohol in the driver's bloodstream, according to a report carried by the mass-circulation daily, Asahi Shimbun.

The system could also kick in if the sensors detect abnormal steering, or if a special camera shows that the driver's pupils are not in focus. The car is then slowed to a halt, the report said.

The world's No. 2 automaker hopes to fit cars with the system by the end of 2009, according to the report. Calls to Toyota's headquarters in Nagoya rang unanswered on Wednesday, a public holiday.

Nissan Motor Co., another Japanese car manufacturer, has already been experimenting with breathalyzer-like devices that could detect if a driver was drunken. Similar technologies, such as alcohol ignition interlocks, are in use in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Concerns over drunken driving have surged in Japan following a series of alcohol-related accidents last year. In August, a drunken driver collided with another vehicle carrying a family of five, plunging them off a bridge and killing three children.

The incident prompted stepped-up roadside spot checks by police, who also plan to stiffen penalties for drunken driving.


Studios OK technology for movie downloads

LOS ANGELES - Hollywood studios have approved a new technology and licensing arrangement that should remove a major obstacle consumers now face with burning movies they buy digitally over the Internet onto a DVD that will play everywhere.

Sonic Solutions Inc. is introducing on Thursday the Qflix system for adding a standard digital lock to DVDs burned in a computer or a retail kiosk.

The lock, known as "content scrambling system," or CSS, is backed by the studios, TV networks and other content creators and comes standard on prerecorded DVDs today. All DVD players come equipped with a key that fits the lock and allows for playback.

But movie download services such as Movielink, CinemaNow and's Unbox haven't been able to use CSS because studios fear widespread DVD burning could lead to piracy.

Studios have experimented with an alternative to CSS used by movie downloading service CinemaNow, but only a small number of titles are available for such burning and some users have complained of problems with playback.

With Qflix — and its studio-backed copy-protection system — consumers should have more options. But they'll need new blank DVDs and compatible DVD burners to use it.

The system can also be used in retail kiosks, which could hold hundreds of thousands of older films and TV shows for which studios don't see a huge market. Customers could pick a film, TV episode or an entire season's worth of shows and have them transferred to DVD on the spot.

Burning a DVD will take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes using Sonic's technology, the company said.

Consumers still would be subject to restrictions placed by the movie service and studios. For instance, using the copy-protection technology in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media system, a service could specify that a given title can be burned no more than two times.

Sonic has been working for three years to develop the technology and get studios to agree to amend the CSS license to allow a "download to burn" option.

"We are pleased and encouraged to see efforts like Sonic's creation of Qflix that addresses the need for industry standard protection," Chris Cookson, chief technology officer at Warner Bros. said in a statement.

The initial companies participating in Qflix include Verbatim Corp., which makes blank discs, the movie download service Movielink, video-on-demand provider Akimbo Systems Inc. and the Walgreen Co. chain of drug stores.

Studios must still figure out pricing schemes that appeal to consumers and protect its lucrative retail business. Some retailers, such as Wal-Mart, have talked about starting their own online downloading services or installing kiosks to burn DVDs in the store.

Also, most consumers will need a new DVD burner that includes the latest software. Some burners can be updated, Sonic said, and companies such as Plextor, a Qflix partner, are expected to market Qflix-enabled DVD burners that connect with a USB cable.

GARY GENTILE, AP Business Writer